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Tuesday, June 16, 2009 Convention Wrap-up

Maintaining Marketability with CABMA

The College Athletic Business Management Association (CABMA) Convention got underway today, June 16, and no time was wasted as it dove into one of the most pertinent issues facing all athletics administrators in its 11 a.m. session entitled "Career Management: Staying Marketable in Challenging Economic Times."

The speaker, Bill Carr, former athletics director at the University of Florida and the University of Houston, now heads up a company (Carr Sports Associates, Inc.) whose goal is to provide solutions and resources for the advancement of athletics programs. Using the knowledge and credibility he gained from his time as the head of one of the premier athletics programs in the country, he delivered his message of marketability to a room full of current and aspiring business professionals and athletics administrators.

Stealing a page out of Aretha Franklin's book, Carr began by saying his presentation would boil down to one concept, which was coined by the diva: Take Care of Business. During this time of economic uncertainty, sticking to the basics and doing them to the best of your ability is more essential than ever. Carr laid out several things that need to be examined before a job candidate even wakes up the day of an interview. Look closely and carefully at the following items in order to be fully prepared. Examine:

• your background and how your previous experience has prepared you for the position
• your aspirations, short and long term
• your expectations of the job
• your limitations (i.e. the timing of the career move, issues regarding relocation)
• your philosophy on intercollegiate athletics
• why you fit the job personally and professionally
• your MAJOR questions regarding the position

The final point was relayed with some hesitancy, admitted Carr, as he has been involved in interviewing processes where the candidate decided his own fate by the immense number of questions he asked during his phone interview. "You need to have the major questions in place," Carr said. "But let me advise you as a candidate, don't walk in the door asking a hundred questions about, `well how much money are we spending on recruiting...?'

"I was involved in a search this last year and a wonderful candidate for the position killed his chances because he asked so many questions. Don't ever try to control the interview. It is not your interview, it is their interview and you are privileged to be there." The often-uttered phrase, "it's not what you know, it's who you know" was reworded by Carr to state "make sure you have access to the decision makers."

Either way, he feels that putting yourself in a position where you have access to the people with the decision-making power is a must. In great detail, Carr told a story about when he was the AD at Florida and was pressed to make a swift hiring decision. Admittedly, he was swayed by one of the university's top boosters who he held in high esteem, and he hired the coach on his recommendation. To this day he regrets making that hire because the particular coach was not the right man for the job, but because he had access to the booster, who in turn had a great relationship with Carr, he got the job.

In closing, Carr pointed out three one-word categories that need to be covered in order to truly be a successful athletics director. Number one--welfare. This pertains to the student-athletes. You are seated in the chair you are in for the growth and well-being of your student-athletes. Number two--leadership. All coaches are looking for this quality in the director of their ship. And number three--management. The most overlooked characteristic may be the most important, but also the most difficult. Managing the relationships with your student-athletes, coaches and assistants is important, but being able to do the same with those above you (i.e. Provost, President) is vital to being well-rounded and truly fulfilling the duty as a director of intercollegiate athletics.

Mentoring Institute teaches Coping with Crisis

Kicking off the 2009 NACDA Mentoring Institute with a discussion on the topic of crisis management was University of Miami Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt, who in his short four-year stint as an athletics director is already no stranger to the subject. Hocutt felt that outlining his own experiences at his first AD stop at Ohio University was the best way to instruct attendees on how to handle situations of crisis. In just two and a half years at Ohio, Hocutt was faced with a career's worth of crisis situations, which included two coaches being arrested for a DUI, an ensuing interview with ESPN Outside the Lines, the death of a beloved student-athlete, the discontinuation of four varsity programs, an embezzlement scandal with the associate athletics director for business, Title IX issues and a gambling scandal involving members of the baseball team.

When a first-time AD walks into the position, he or she has been trained to handle tasks such as strategic planning, communication within the department, promoting the brand, fundraising and hiring the right head coaches. Hocutt would argue that crisis management not only needs to be on that list, but it should reside above all the others. His preparation and ability to handle all the crisis situations he was thrust into at Ohio can be attributed to a quote he heard at a conference he attended when he worked at the University of Oklahoma under AD and NACDA Past President Joe Castiglione. It states: "In positions of leadership, they will throw stones at you. Prepare yourself for it." A pair of DUI's, death, program cuts, embezzlement, Title IX and a gambling scandal: Stones? More like boulders. At any rate, to be able to handle these types of situations, Hocutt advised those in attendance to gain knowledge from the following six lessons he has learned.

1) Develop a strong sense of mission. Shortly after his arrival to Miami, Hocutt, his staff and a group of student-athletes reworked the athletics program's mission statement to fit the current climate of the program. The goal of developing this is to be able to have something to look upon when it's time to make a difficult decision in a time of crisis. When he was forced to look four sets of student-athletes in the eye and tell them that everything they had worked for was being taken away from them, he had to fall back on the mission of doing what is best for the department as a whole. Sure he took tremendous heat from the student body and the fans, but he was able to live with himself because he stayed true to the mission.

2) Develop core values. What do we stand for? What don't we stand for? For Hocutt, the former consists of integrity, diversity, sportsmanship, accountability, pride, education and professional conduct. The latter includes dishonesty, stealing and cheating. Even if a loved administrator and friend schemes to embezzle money, consequently going against these core values, ties need to be cut to uphold them.

3) Stay focused on your vital priorities. A few of these include academics, safety and people. In the case of the death of the OU student-athlete, the focus was not on how they were going to replace her services, it was where it should be--on the friends, family and teammates and making sure they were given special attention and were fully taken care of. Hocutt's staff already had a crisis communication plan in effect, which made the situation not easy, but achievable because the proper preparation was in place should a crisis of that nature occur.

4) Have confidence in your decisions. As an athletics director, your decisions affect a long line of people, so they need to be thoroughly and meticulously thought out. If this is the case, then there's no reason why you should second guess a decision. At Ohio, Hocutt experienced not one, but two coaches who were arrested for DUI, one being the head football coach and the other an assistant wrestling coach. After much consultation and consideration, he took a different course of action with each coach, which brought him criticism from every direction. He was later informed that ESPN's Outside the Lines requested an interview with him to discuss why he didn't treat each case the same. According to Hocutt, ESPN came into the interview with an agenda and their minds made up as to how they wanted to portray the story, so his confidence in the tough decisions that he had to make went a long way in helping him weather that particular media storm.

5) Develop healthy relationships. This pertains to the last player on the football roster on up to the university president. Handling a crisis is difficult enough, but handling one surrounded by individuals with whom you have a sour relationship is even harder. Develop these relationships ahead of time to ensure that you can count on them when a time of crisis arises.

6) Communicate. The centerpiece of any interpersonal relationship and the solution to most any problem is solid communication. When the problem arises, slow down and talk to those who you have taken the time to develop the healthy relationships with. A few more comments on communication, particularly with the media: Always put the facts on the table and don't speak until you're ready. In this day and age, a quote can go from local to global in a matter of seconds, so being truthful and prepared to speak to the media is a critical part of the job.